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Emeryville Latest Target of Virtual Public Comment Hate Speech

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Emeryville was the latest city to experience online hate speech during a public meeting often referred to as “Zoom Bombing.”

The March 5th City Council meeting was disrupted by several speakers over the span of 10 minutes who used the open public comment period to spew jewish conspiracy theories, anti-trans comments and racism.

Emeryville joins a growing list of Bay Area Cities that have been targets of these apparently coordinated attacks including Walnut Creek, El Cerrito and San Jose among many others.

Remote or “virtual” meetings have increased the ease of participation and by all metrics, they’ve been a boost to civic participation allowing busy parents and disabled residents to participate in important conversations. But virtual meetings have also increased the anonymity and ability of those outside the community to disrupt meetings by espousing extremist views. Many local governments are struggling to strike a balance between access and discouraging hateful speech.

Emeryville City Council Meeting Targeted

The first speaker at Tuesday’s Emeryville City Council meeting who identified himself as “Bill Schehner” (likely a pseudonym) initially sounded like he might be protesting the conflict in Gaza and pleading for a ceasefire which has become common. “I would like to ask the city council to please put forth a resolution disavowing any support for the terroristic nation of Israel, which is an illegitimate state stolen from Palestinian land in 1947.”

The rhetoric escalated with the second speaker who began citing Anti-Israel and Anti-Semitic religious passages. Councilmember John Bauters, likely sensing that this was a coordinated effort, can be seen whispering to Emeryville Mayor Courtney Welch before leaving the dais.


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The third speaker, a woman who identified herself as “Ursula,” began her public comment decrying trans women’s participation in Women’s History month. Following the use of a homophobic slur, Emeryville Mayor Courtney Welch requested that the city clerk remove the speaker. The speaker then unleashed a vile and racist rant directed at Welch prior to being cut off. The fourth speaker spewed similar Anti-Semitic and conspiracy-laden language.

Welch then issued a warning reading from the city’s policies on abusive language. ”I just want to note for any public speakers moving forward, the city council welcomes comments including criticism about the policies, procedures, programs or services of the city or acts of, or the emissions of the city council. Speakers shall not use threatening, profane or abusive language which disrupts, disturbs or otherwise impedes the orderly conduct of a city council successor agency, management of Emeryville Services Authority or related meeting,” Welch went on to say. “Statements or conduct that is hostile, intimidating, oppressive or abusive is per se disruptive to a meeting and will not be tolerated. I hope everyone online heard that. You will be removed if you violate that policy.”

The fifth and final speaker immediately dove into an abusive and hate-filled diatribe.

Council reacts to being subjected to hate speech with Councilmember Kalimah Priforce leaning over his walking cane.

In response to these coordinated hate speech attacks and their inability to control them, many cities have moved to eliminate remote meeting participation including Concord, San Ramon, Walnut Creek, Sonoma County, Redwood City and Fremont.

The elimination of remote comment hasn’t completely eliminated this form of hate speech. After Walnut Creek eliminated virtual public comment, some speakers have brazenly attended in-person meetings to express their extremist views.

Organizations like the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) have cautioned that the ongoing conflict between the state of Israel and Palestinians has ratcheted up Anti-Semitic rhetoric with a near 400% increase in incidents of harassment, vandalism and assault over the same period last year.

The ADL has cited several extremist groups for helping coordinate these attacks including the Goyim Defense League, the White Lives Matter network and the Proud Boys. The ADL has posted a printable “Toolkit” for responding to these extremist disruptions at public meetings.

Hate Speech has no single, objective definition but is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as “public speech that expresses hate or encourages violence towards a person or group based on something such as race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation.”

The full, uncensored meeting can be viewed below on the city’s YouTube channel with the public comment period beginning at [1:25:06].

The comments include racist and hurtful language and caution is encouraged.

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Rob Arias

is a third generation Californian and East Bay native who lived in Emeryville from 2003 to 2021. Rob founded The E'ville Eye in 2011 after being robbed at gunpoint and lamenting the lack of local news coverage. Rob's "day job" is as a creative professional.

10 Comments

      • I don’t think I have any issues with it being reported so that people are aware of these racist comments. The issue I personally have is that you’re promoting a link to the video that includes the racial slurs within your article. The Berkleyside article didn’t do that. Just something to think about and consider. I say this recognizing the importance of hyperlocal news outlets like this for the Emeryville community, but need it in a form that is also objective and respectful to those that were traumatized by this rhetoric.

      • I think your issue is with the city who are “platforming” them by hosting the uncensored video on their YouTube channel. We provided ample warning of the content.

      • This seems like a lost cause, Rob.

        “They didn’t take it down, so I’m going to show it here” is a lofty argument. Just consider the Black, trans, LGBTQ+ and Jewish members of the community who are going to be triggered because they get to see that video here. Warnings aren’t enough.

        We all have a role to play in the spread of hate – and you’re being complicit here in spreading that. I’d rather have E’ville Eye be an outlet for objective and responsible hyperlocal journalism.

        Think about it a little more. I’m not looking for a quick response.

      • I’ll refer you to the AP standards under Decency / Obcenitie, Profanities, Vulgarities:
        “When a piece of video or audio contains something that might be deemed offensive, we flag it in the written description (rundown, billboard and/or script) so clients know what they are getting.”
        https://www.ap.org/about/news-values-and-principles/telling-the-story/

        I’ll also refer you to our donation page in case you’re an anonymous commenter that comes here for free news but still likes to complain about it without actually supporting local news.
        https://evilleeye.com/support/

      • Thanks for sharing the AP resource. It was helpful, but I can see how the guidance contradicts itself in some key ways.

        The decency section does call out a few key things:
        “AP resists being used as a conduit for speech or images that espouse hate or spread propaganda. When hate speech or images are the basis of a news story, it is often sufficient to briefly refer to the speech or images in a text story rather than carry the speech or propaganda at length or redistribute the images. A senior manager must vet any material showing hostages or conveying kidnappers’ statements or demands. Quoting from such materials should be kept to the minimum necessary to convey the story and must note that the hostage is speaking under duress.”

        My understanding from the above is the sole founding intent should be to exercise responsibility when disclosing information pertaining to hate speech and propaganda and to keep it at a minimum.

        It further goes on to say:

        “Recognizing that standards differ around the world and from platform to platform, we tailor our advisories and selection of video and audio according to customer needs.

        We do not refer readers to websites that are obscene, racist or otherwise offensive, and we must not directly link from stories to such sites.

        We link our text content to the least offensive image necessary to tell the story. For photo galleries and interactive presentations we alert readers to the nature of the material in the link and on the opening page of the gallery or interactive.”

        In theory, it was posted to YouTube which is an acceptable platform and linking to the content (which was offensive) seems like it would be deemed acceptable, and should not be an issue. It clearly leaves it open to recognize that the standards vary from different markets and publications.

        It also includes the profane video example which uses the f-word as an example. I can see how you considered the hate speech in the content of the video to be comparable to the use of an expletive.

        From all of this, I can see why you’ve decided to opt the route you took. Even though, I highly disagree with it.

        As far as support, I have contributed in the past and will consider it in the future. Appreciate you sharing the link. I didn’t mean to upset you in any way, and was hoping to have an open dialogue about it. I appreciate you, your publication and the need to continue the support it deserves. E’ville Eye has been a great resource for me and many other residents and appreciate the work of all contributors.

    • The extreme right is starting to use the tactics the marxist illiberal progressives (i.e. anywhere left of center) have been using for decades. Another outbreak of TDS expected soon.

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